On World Cancer Day, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), released the latest estimates of the global burden of cancer. The alarming data underscores the urgent need for comprehensive cancer care services globally.
In 2022, approximately 20 million new cancer cases and 9.7 million deaths were reported worldwide, with the number of people living within 5 years of a cancer diagnosis reaching 53.5 million. Shockingly, one in five individuals will develop cancer in their lifetime, and approximately one in nine men and one in twelve women will succumb to the disease.
The WHO’s survey on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and cancer services in 115 countries revealed a stark reality: the majority of nations do not adequately finance priority cancer and palliative care services. Only 39% of participating countries included basic cancer management in their health benefit packages and a mere 28% covered care for those requiring palliative services.
Lung, breast, and colorectal cancers emerged as the major global cancer types in 2022, collectively constituting two-thirds of new cases and deaths. Lung cancer, driven by persistent tobacco use in Asia, topped the list with 2.5 million new cases and 1.8 million deaths. Breast cancer and colorectal cancer followed closely in incidence and mortality.
A notable finding from the report is the resurgence of lung cancer as the most common cancer globally, emphasizing the continued impact of tobacco consumption. Disparities by sex were evident, with breast cancer being the most common in women and lung cancer in men.
Cervical cancer, the eighth most common globally, remains a significant concern, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The WHO Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative offers hope for addressing this public health challenge.
The report also highlighted striking cancer inequities based on the Human Development Index (HDI). In high HDI countries, breast cancer poses a greater threat, while low HDI countries face higher mortality rates due to late diagnoses and inadequate access to quality treatment.
Furthermore, the survey exposed global inequities in cancer services, revealing a considerable gap between high-income and lower-income countries. Lung cancer-related services were 4–7 times more likely to be included in health benefit packages in high-income countries. The report calls for urgent investments to bridge these gaps and promote equal access to cancer care globally.
Looking ahead, the projected cancer burden in 2050 is alarming, with over 35 million new cases predicted, marking a 77% increase from 2022 estimates. Tobacco, alcohol, and obesity remain key contributors, with air pollution also playing a significant role.
High HDI countries are expected to experience the greatest absolute increase, while low and medium HDI countries face a disproportionate rise in incidence and mortality. This looming crisis demands urgent attention, with the WHO stressing the importance of global collaboration, political will, and increased investments to ensure that every individual has access to affordable, quality cancer care services.